A-Z of Leadership Learnings  #clore14 @cloreleadership

A: First + foremost I am an artist; my leadership development is framed by artist as leader, artist in governance, artist placement group, autonomy for artists + audiences and how and when to take action.

B: One baseline element of effective leadership is belief. What do you need to do, think or feel in order to believe in yourself? What characteristics + behaviours do you need to promote + action so others believe in you also?

C: My Clore time has refocused my commitment to working with Context is Half the Work #ArtistPlacementGroup + how identifying and communicating common ground from cross disciplin collaboration feeds my practice exponentially.

D: My clore secondment explored dance @dance_east and learning through doing including a great ballet class! Doing is great for Dyslexic brains which are wired to think differently. Thinking differently = Leadership innovation.

E: The fellowship has expanded horizons from individual practice towards what’s beneficial for the arts sector and practitioners specifically. Important to explore equality + question who gets to be an artist @rhi_annon1584

F: Fellowship is Life so said the clarion movement and Clore is an exemplar of this. Feeling fortunate to know my fellows have my back as floundering + failure couple with experimentation + testing of new learning.

G: Feeling green (as in untried, unsophisticated, inexpert) in the face of new ideas and working practices can feel bruising but cultivating a feeling of generosity to self and others facing the same can be a gracious act.

H: Horizon Scanning: identifying opportunities, emerging issues, potential risks for holistic future planning. Opportunity; growth in arts for good health/wellbeing. Risk; who looks after the health of delivering practitioners?

I: As imagined leadership futures are formed into plans and actions, it may be that impostor syndrome appears alongside trying to remind us we don’t belong. Be insistent and keep going in your direction of travel.

J: Is artist as leader a juxtaposition? Art practice and leadership practice may feel contrasting but at the converging junctions the possibilities of reach, influence and impact result in a strengthening of the arts sector.

K: Locating our own salient point is to find our keynote which comes from exploring, learning and interrogating through conversation, experience and input. After reflection new knowledge emerges to inform practice going forward

L: My late father was an avid golfer and would watch the big players on TV at any opportunity. I’ve always remembered @NickFaldo006 saying on winning a major golf tournament “It’s luck – the more I practice the luckier I get”.

M: Metaphor helps with understanding complexity. A conversation with @Ed_Ikin from the first clore residential about a single stem or multi-stem silver birch regularly informs my thinking on existing practice and new directions.

N: Now is the best time; waiting for circumstances to be ‘right’ and everything to ‘be in place’ before starting is a fallacy. If it feels important, if it demands your attention then begin it now, take the first step.

O: The fellowship led to an overhaul of beliefs, values, activities, approaches to practice, modes of communication. This modernising is still oscillating so there is an opportunity for real change, development and expansion.

P: Many practitioners belong to the Precariat, a new class of worker who lives with instability and uncertainty as an almost constant state. Could Universal Basic Income Help? @theRSAorg The Autonomous Artist

Q: The open questions used in coaching are amongst the most powerful mechanisms for reflective practice. Direct but not directive in their intention they facilitate a much needed space for thought and speaking out loud.

R: Clore is an intense development programme with learning curves coming fast and steep at times so a period of rest and recuperation in what ever form that takes post fellowship will effectively help to cement learning.

S: The Clore Stretch. An invitation issued by our great facilitators @followfearghus and @Mortimeri at the fellowship residentials – to draw out, expand and extend our thinking into new ideas, reflections and connections.

T: My fellowship involved a lot of travel; physically on trains and metaphorically in thinking and thought processes. Travel offers new experiences, input, people and places all informing what action to take when the time comes.

U: There is some immediate understanding of fellowship activities and experiences but really it’s the longer term opening up and unpacking that will lead to further insights; tomorrow, next month, next year, next decade.

V: The completion of Clore may bring to the fore a Fertile Void. Trusting the process and staying with the void of not knowing will result in something new emerging as the only constant in life is change.

W: There was a time when the fellowship was very busy and I took a WhatsApp holiday: it proved just the ticket. In times of complexity it can be productive to reduce input and stimulus to a minimum.

X: Identifying what your x-factor is can be a really useful process: what is it in your approach, method, belief or strategy that could have the most significant impact on a process or outcome?

Y: Yes to ideas, collaboration and slow. Yes to research, conversations and exchange. Yes to new horizons, new projects taking off and exciting times. And yes to remembering it doesn’t all have to be done immediately.

Z: There has been lots of zooming in and zooming back out again over the fellowship getting the balance of big picture + fine details. Official last day of Clore Fellowship but it also continues also…


All the images for the alphabet can be seen on @nicolanaismith1 where the A-Z was first published a day at time over the last 26 days of the fellowship.



lack of success, non-success, non-fulfilment, defeat, frustration, collapse, foundering, misfiring, coming to nothing, falling through fiasco, debacle, catastrophe, disaster, blunder, vain attempt, defeat, flop, botch, let-down, dead loss, dead duck, lead balloon, lemon, loser, born loser, incompetent, non-achiever, underachiever, ne’er-do-well, disappointment, write-off; no one, nobody.


inventiveness, imagination, imaginativeness, innovation, innovativeness, originality, individuality, artistry, expressiveness, inspiration, vision, creative power, creative talent, creative gift, creative skill, resourcefulness, ingenuity, enterprise.


general, ubiquitous, comprehensive, common, omnipresent, all-embracing, all-inclusive, all-round, across the board, global, worldwide, international, widespread, blanket, sweeping, rampant, catholic, inescapable, pervading, pervasive, permeating.

Failure is intrinsic in arts production, an essential component of the creative process. It’s often called creative play; something of itself, an activity without an exact ambition of form or outcome. Whether it is play or failure, as a process it is inherent in creativity; to fail is to reach the piece of work on the other side of a first idea. Experimentation and innovation are the beneficiaries of failure. To have an ambition to only make successful work and thus circumnavigate failure is to make work which never really reaches its true potential. Failure is good, interesting, positive, meandering, unexpected, enjoyable; and sits outside the norm of many other professional expectations.

“To strive to fail is to go against the socially normalised drive towards ever increasing success. In Samuel Beckett’s words: To be an artist is to fail as no other dare to fail.”(1)

If failure in creative process is a desirable positive state, how does failure sit with the economics of running a creative practice?  Perhaps less well. Taking risks with practice and failing, Beckett would have us consider:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”(2)

But to fail at the economics of being a practitioner? It is a privilege which only a few can afford. For if we fail too often at the practice of being an artist (putting the artwork to one side) the impact on individual artists can be huge. The outdated nostalgic image of the struggling artist working in a dank garret, or the idea that great art comes from suffering are unhelpful at best and damaging to practitioners at worst. To continually take risks with failure in practice is perhaps to place the business of being an artist in a perilous  position. Success must come at some point, or preferably  at a series of regular points, to ensure the rent is paid, food is put on the table and utilities kept up to date. Beckett himself was in receipt of an allowance following the death of his father (3) which gave him licence and freedom to fail and fail frequently if desired.

Many artists work on a project to project basis, and in this respect are part of the gig economy, working in structures akin to zero hours contracts and shifting work patterns and pay. The recent UK Government report Experiences of Individuals in the Gig Economy uses the following definition:

“The gig economy involves the exchange of labour for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment-by-task basis”.(4)

We made not be trading labour for income on digital platforms (we may do in part) but many artists are working on a task basis: we call it project working which is effectively a number of tasks held under one project description or contract. The government report emphasises the benefits of the gig economy, but recognises that when this method of working is a primary (not supplementary) source of income the vulnerabilities in terms of working times and pay levels mean individuals can “suffer from a degree of precariousness in terms of a lack of employment rights”.(5)

High on the current arts sector agenda is the issue of diversity in the workforce, which includes explorations of class, and particularly working class, access to the arts through leadership, employment, funding, opportunity and aspiration. Recent reports such as Panic – Its an Arts Emergency, and the work of Rhiannon White’s Class: Elephant in the Room are much needed explorations which increase the levels of the debate around the place class has in the arts.

If failure if a privilege, who is the artist that can hold together creative exploration / failure and business success (or even business subsistence) in the long term? Is it those with economic cushions in the form of working spouses or family backing, private income and savings? If these are the only artists practising, art becomes homogenised and narrow due to the experience base which informed its creation.

In Guy Standing’s book The Precariat he talks of a new dangerous class lacking in both stability and predictability (6) which characterises what many artists face in their working lives. In order to create our best work there needs to be room for autonomy, to make the mistakes, to take risks, to fail; but even that endeavour can come tied to more difficult feelings. Standing looks at the relationship between freedom and anxiety:

“The precariat wants freedom and basic security…..anxiety is part of freedom….Unless anxiety is moderated, anchored in security, stability and control, it risks veering into irrational fears and incapacity to function rationally or to develop a coherent narrative for living and working”. (7)

A desire for a balance between freedom and stability could be met with the Universal Basic Income (UBI); a universal unconditional payment made by the state to each citizen replacing a complex and conditional benefits system. It has been widely debated over the last few years, with a trial in Finland which looked promising, but was recently withdrawn with the reasons for doing so being unclear. Scotland is looking to roll out 4 trials but again details on progress are difficult to track. Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) meanwhile offers a variation on the UBI theme:

“The central proposition is the creation of a Universal Basic Opportunity Fund (UBOF): an effort to reimagine how society supports people to live meaningful, contributory lives. Its premise is simple: fund every citizen under the age of 55 with a £5,000 opportunity dividend for up to two years, taken at a time of their choosing over the course of a decade”. (8)

The RSA proposal offers a middle ground to full UBI, and has the potential to benefit not only artists and creatives but society as a whole; allowing people with caring responsibilities and those wanting to volunteer or study to take that opportunity. The future of UBI or UBOF is uncertain: economic and ideological considerations are still being explored and debated. Perceptions that support of this kind will benefit the work shy prevail, but it is one way to support artists so that they have a baseline income free from conditions, offering both stability and predicability.

In Guy Standing’s further book Basic Income: and how we can make it happen he quotes from a John Farrell article published in 2016:

“Anyone who ever invented or created anything did so with a modicum of financial security behind them. That’s why so many of our statues are to upper-class white men; that’s why Virginia Woolf needed “a room of her own and £500 a year”. For centuries we have tapped the potential of only a small proportion of the British people; the rest have been powerless to initiate or discover where their true talents lay”.(9)

Of course much like Beckett, Woolf benefitted from a financial legacy allowing her to pay for a room of her own. UBI and UBOF could be ways of encouraging a more diverse range of people to think about the potential of developing a career in the arts, supporting them to ‘have a room of their own’ in which to take risks with failure, secure in the knowledge that at least in part their economic stability is predictable.



1. Lisa Le Feuvre (Ed) Failure – Documents of Contemporary Art Whitechapel Gallery, London Pg. 12

2. Chris Power Samuel Beckett, the maestro of failure 7.7.2016

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/jul/07/samuel-beckett-the-maestro-of-failure  Accessed June 2018

3.  ibid

4. HM Government, The Experiences of individuals in the gig economy, Feb 2018  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/679987/171107_The_experiences_of_those_in_the_gig_economy.pdf pg.8 Accessed June 2018

5. ibid pg. 99

6. Guy Standing The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London, Bloomsbury, 2011, p22

7. ibid p155

8. The RSA Pathways to Universal Basic Income: The case for a Universal Basic Opportunity fund. 16 Feb 2018 https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/pathways-to-universal-basic-income-the-case-for-a-universal-basic-opportunity-fund Accessed May 2018

9. Guy Standing Basic Income and How we can make it happen Pelican Introductions, 2017, ebook unnumbered page: chapter 8 sub section Creative and Reproductive Labour

Image: Screen grab: The Great British class calculator: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22000973




In his book Education for Socially Engaged Practice, Pablo Helguera explores what it means to work in a socially engaged manner; where the variables lie, the questions, experiments and issues. Early in the book he “establishes a tentative taxonomy”(1) to work out what kind of participation is being offered. This simple set of descriptions (shortened and highlighted in the above image) does much to promote reflective thinking about what a project aiming or claiming to be socially engaged is actually offering. Just exactly what kind of participation is sought, how will participants participate, to what extent and to what desired outcome? Where does capacity of decision making come into the collaborative equation for both artist / arts organisation and participant? Is it even collaborative? What exactly is the ambition and how is success to be measured?

I was fortunate to go to the University of East Anglia in Norwich last week where the New Perspectives in Participatory Arts (part of the AHRC Connecting Communities) was taking place. Wide ranging in its speakers, the programme brought together academics and practitioners in a range of thought provoking presentations which explored methods and policy, telling stories, community music and media, and care and the community to name but a few.

Scattered notes taken in haste as speakers spoke and slides were shown have been reviewed and the following seem to demand further consideration at a date yet to be identified. In no particular order they are:

Collaboration ‘with, not for’

Who is being left out and why

Being vigilant about what is missing

The creative class

Porous boundaries

Participation or direction

Social Capital

Redemption narratives

Listening is a creative act in itself

Intrinsic motivation

Instrumental benefits

What can I do to help you feel comfortable?

Absence of a pre-determined plan

We all feel like outsiders on the inside

I am not a neutral person in this space

Culture of over claiming

Are people excluded or do they exclude themselves?

Compendium of contentious terms

Not mimicking  – taking its own form

Protection from the audience gaze

Community arts as a 2nd class arts activity

The relationship between engagement and aesthetics

Elastic boundaries

Lived, explored, reacted and responded creatively

Necessary attributes of resilience

What quality looks like

The audience is really important

Risks and Context

Dialogical practice

All growth requires a degree of loss

I’ve got a particular pallet that I am still happy with

Culture of persistent encounter.

There were a number of papers which focused on measurement and evaluation. Some presenters spoke of how some existing methods of measurement were inappropriate for some participatory groups. The idea of relying on anecdotal evidence was seen by some as problematic, for others it constituted practiced based research; there were also suggestions for new scales of measurement. It raises the question can we have projects that are creative, inclusive and engaging if we can’t measure their impact? Is anything beyond measurement? Probably not, but no-one wants evaluation to be a larger part of the budget than the actual event.

Later in his book Helguera talks of documentation in relationship to authorship.

“Authorship hinges on the existence of a recognisable product. It is hard to claim to be an author of any kind if there is no tangible product to claim as one’s own. Yet that is precisely what lies at the centre of Socially Engaged Practice: the idea that an intangible social interaction between a group of people can constitute an artwork” (2).

The importance of documentation and authorship can be extended to include measurement and evaluation. If it wasn’t documented did it happen, if it wasn’t evaluated did it have impact? Both have consequences for the artist and for participatory arts as a whole.

1 Pablo Helguera Education for Socially Engaged Practice: A materials and Techniques Handbook. Jorge Pinto Books, New York 2011 p.14/15

2 ibid p73


Trust: confidence, belief, faith, freedom from suspicion & doubt, sureness, certainty, certitude, assurance, conviction, credence, reliance, responsibility, duty, obligation, safe-keeping, keeping, protection, charge, care, custody; trusteeship, guardianship.

In a recent Life Scientific Jim Al-khalili was in conversation with Allie Macadam, renowned engineer. In the programme Macadam was in part talking about diversity, or lack of diversity, within the engineering sector, and what part unconscious bias plays in recruitment decision making. She went on to say how we need to be aware of our unconscious bias to ensure diversity increases.  Obviously the issues associated with unconscious bias extend far beyond engineering, playing out across the whole of society on an everyday basis.

There are currently over 165,000 registered charities in the uk with 700,000 trustees sitting on their boards (1). Charities will have a Chief Executive Officer or equivalent, but it is the trustees who direct and hold the charities’ activities in line with its registered purpose. Trustees are also in charge of the financial stability and proper accounting of the charity, in addition to numerous other responsibilities including terms of employment for staff. The trustee role in the charity sector is always unpaid, so trustees are effectively volunteers who give up their time to support the aims of a charity they believe in and want to practically support.

Currently two thirds of trustees are male, have an average age between 55 – 64 with only 8% from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds (2). These statistics show how charity boards are unrepresentative of the population as a whole. If board members come from similar educational, class, ethnic and/or professional backgrounds the danger is of ‘groupthink’ referred to in 2017 Arts Council How to Create Diverse Boards – Culture Change Guide.

“A diverse board is able to make decisions more effectively by reducing the risk of ‘groupthink’. Board members are responsible for devising or agreeing strategies through critical appraisal and effective problem solving. A challenge in the decision- making process, within the boardroom, is ‘groupthink’ – the psychological behaviour of minimising conflicts and reaching a consensus decision. Including the contributions of people with different skills, backgrounds and experiences creates solutions to problems from a greater range of perspectives”(3).

So why is the trustee demographic so limited? It is perhaps attributable in part to the historical (but still prevalent) process of ‘recruiting trustees on the basis of existing influence, contacts or wealth which predicates against a more diverse range of trustees’ (4). It may also be due to personal experience; if no-one in a family, friendship or colleague group had ever been a trustee what would prompt an individual to consider or aspire to such a position? Perhaps witnessing the media attention on trustees (who are legally responsible for the charities activities including safeguarding) when alleged serious wrong-doings are highlighted is off putting to prospective candidates. Having spare time to make a regular unpaid commitment to a charity, holding that charity and steering it through both challenging and thriving times proactively is not something everyone can do. Many trustee meetings happen in the evenings, when people may have caring responsibilities or work commitments rendering attendance at meetings difficult. These are all possible barriers and yet there is a new agenda promoting diversity on boards, across both charity and corporate sectors as government undertakes reviews and sets targets.

It was a talk by Prue Skene on the first Clore Leadership residential, where she detailed her experience of working on and developing charity boards, that really brought the idea of joining a board to mind. As part of my Clore fellowship development programme I decided to enrol on the Cause4 Trustee Leadership course, to provide a solid base on which to develop an understanding of the role of trustee and to hear about experiences of people who are currently trustees. Bearing in mind that seeking a position on an arts based charity might bring about a conflict of interest (trustees can not financially benefit from the charity) I am using the course to learn and think about both what kind of charity I would like to give time to.  More widely I am considering what artists could bring to charity boards of all kinds and what our skill set may be.

It can be difficult to appraise skills when they don’t fit neatly into roles or easily identifiable subjects such as finance, human resources or marketing but artists are multi-skilled professionals. Many artists’ activities are focused on seeking opportunities, locating grants and and writing applications, managing budgets, working with diverse participants and audiences. They also know what it is like to live on low incomes whilst navigating a complex benefits system with the unpredictability of paid work. We may have knowledge and prior experience of working with the charity beneficiaries, or may be a former beneficiary ourselves; either way it allows us to bring valuable insights to boards. Artists lead their own work, and to a large extent their own careers, so we regularly question and critically reflect in order to develop and move forward. For some, challenging accepted ways of working and holding those in authority accountable is a vital focus of their practice. These useful and transferable skills in the artist’s toolkit could make us very valuable assets to charity boards of all kinds.

And what can we gain? We have the opportunity to contribute to something outside of our own creative practice, making a positive difference in the charity sector.  We gain new skills from training and peer learning, develop a greater understanding of the challenges charities face, informing the way we interact with the charities we collaborate with or are contracted by in our paid work. The exchange of time for experience isn’t one that everyone can make, but if artists can find their way onto boards our professional reach and influence grows, which can only be of benefit to our sector and wider society as we promote new ideas and ways of working informed by creative practice.


  1. Cause4 Trustee Leadership Course 15 Feb 2018
  2. Taken on Trust The awareness and effectiveness of charity trustees in England and Wales November 2017
  3. How to create diverse boards – Culture Change Guide 2017 p.2
  4. ibid



Charity Commission – Trustee Role and Board

Trustee Bank – details of trustee vacancies